Friday, May 03, 2013

Behind the Scenes at the FEI World Cup Finals with Swedish Farrier Bjorn Berg

You're a long way from home when you go to the Gothenburg Horse Show in Sweden. The huge Swedish spring horse show hosted both the dressage and jumping finals of the 2013 FEI World Cup indoor winter competitions. The best in both sports converged on the annual show and turned it into a world stage.

Sweden's Bjorn Berg has been the show farrier at Gothenburg for 12 years but you can bet that it had never been like this before.  Still, Bjorn managed to find time to snap some photos and email them to the USA.

In these two slide shows, you'll see what all show farriers see behind the scenes at events around the world. It is at once incredibly familiar, yet foreign, too. The ringmaster wears gear that makes him look like a fireman or EMT. The serious Swedes run an emergency drill in the arena, and it's part of Bjorn's day to stand by at the trot-up horse inspection for the international horses.

He thought he was prepared. You'll see his toolbox mounted on the frame of a baby carriage so he can roll it from one end of the huge arena to the other. His work area is tidy and has plenty of room to work but then the work came fast and furious. Bjorn reported that the arena footing was "sticky": front feet were staying on the ground too long when landing from a jump, horses were in danger of stumbling and shoes were sacrificed.

The grooms and riders quickly made their way to the stabling area farrier shop, where they found a new friend who speaks perfect  English and could put them back together again. Bjorn was on his own but ably assisted by his (perhaps future farrier) daughter Carolina. Chances are, she took some of these photos.

Bjorn is one of those farriers whose story should inspire others. He set out to upgrade his farrier skills a few years ago, with the help of his passport. He has been a farrier for 28 years, and divides his time between a private practice, working as one of five farriers consulting at the Ale Equine Hospital north of Gothenburg, and working as a volunteer fireman. He also participates in a research program in applied physics related to farriery engineering and materials at Chalmers University in Sweden. But he wanted more--or to get more out of what he was already doing.

He set out to expand his professional knowledge with courses in Denmark, Norway, Germany, England and Switzerland. And you know what happened next: a trip to America. One trip to West Palm Beach, Florida turned into three consecutive trips to the International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot between 2007 and 2011. The conference has a great reputation for networking and Bjorn's American experiences are proof of it. He signed up for the advanced farriery course at Cornell Vet School in 2010 and then arranged two-week invitations to the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in 2011 and the Palm Beach Equine Hospital in 2012. In between, he co-authored a casebook on corrective farriery for foals, which is currently available only in Swedish but should be translated.

Bjorn is living proof that you don't have to be right-out-of-school to want to improve yourself or recognize that you have a compulsion to share your work. One day we were at lunch and he tossed me a memory card from his phone. "Some photos for you," he said. "Some" turned out to be at least a hundred cases he had documented. "I can take more," he laughed.

Bjorn, like so many others, is motivated to move both the profession and himself forward, but he goes about it in a laid back sort of way. When American farrier Sage Clarke from California went looking for a place to re-shoe Ashlee Bond's mare Whisper with glue-on Burns Polyflex shoes, he must have done a double-take. He had found one of the few farriers in all of Europe who was familiar with those shoes: Bjorn had met Curtis Burns at the laminitis conference, and been on the job with Drs Raul Bras and Scott Morrison at Rood and Riddle where he saw the shoes used on multiple cases. Sage had come to the right place.

"You've got a friend" seemed like the perfect song for Bjorn because, if you met him when you're far from home, he would be cool, calm and friendly to international riders and shoeless horses alike when the horses pulled shoes or needed something tightened. Luckily no one stole the stylish show farrier jacket that Delta Mustad had made for him.

It's interesting to see that both the jacket and the sign over the temporary farrier shop are in English; the Swedish word for farrier is "hovslagare". It's interesting that Sweden is a center for equine research and one of the most active centers for research related to the hoof, but also is researching the farrier profession, with projects exploring ergonomics and workplace health and safety issues that affect farriers.

What's next for Bjorn? He's been collaborating with US veterinarian/researcher Lisa Lancaster of Denver; they submitted an abstract to the 2013 Laminitis Conference continuing on Lancaster's earlier (2011) research on the toe crena; Bjorn contributed by surveying a bank of radiographs from the equine hospital where he works and documenting the size and locations of crenas--something no one has ever tabulated. He'll continue at Chalmers University and no doubt blaze more trails around the world where others will follow.

But for a few days in Gothenburg last week, he was at the center of the world that came to him, and he took the time to share it all back with us through The Hoof Blog.

Thanks to Bjorn for checking in, sharing his interesting corner of the world, and doing his part to make the farrier world--and the horse world--a better place to be.

To follow: Who shod the World Cup winners?

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